Lessons for Today from the 1981 Saudi Arms Deal

Nov. 13 2018

In October 1981, President Ronald Reagan announced he was going through with an agreement, initially negotiated during the Carter administration, to sell Saudi Arabia billions of dollars’ worth of sophisticated weaponry, including five Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS): airplanes whose advanced radar could detect otherwise undetectable incoming aircraft. Israeli officials, Prime Minister Menachem Begin included, were concerned that these systems would give Riyadh a technological edge over the IDF. Accordingly, the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) embarked on one of its most ambitious lobbying efforts ever to convince Congress not to approve the deal. Arnon Gutfeld offers a detailed history of the ensuing dispute and explains its relevance in light of the more recent controversy concerning Benjamin Netanyahu’s public opposition to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran:

[Both the AWACS episode and the dispute over the Iran deal] underscore the constraints on the maneuverability of a small state in its bilateral relationship with a great power. For the great power, the relationship with the small state, however important it may at times be, is but one on a wide spectrum of interactions. For the latter it is of crucial, at times even existential, importance. This is all the more pertinent to Israel’s relationship with the U.S., its staunchest, indeed its only, great-power ally. . . .

In American political culture, failure is considered an unforgivable sin. This means Israel and its local supporters must carefully choose the battles they pick with an incumbent president as every failure is bound to undermine the omnipotent image of the pro-Israel lobby and diminish its ability to win future battles. In this respect, the AWACS deal seemed a battle worth fighting, given its seemingly high chance of winning in view of the near-universal Jewish-American opposition to the sale; strong congressional opposition; and a friendlier president who could be expected to show greater understanding of Israel’s needs and vulnerabilities.

[By contrast], the Iran nuclear deal involved a potentially existential threat to Israel that overshadowed most political/foreign policy calculations and necessitated a [riskier] strategy. . . . While the Iran deal cast a shadow on Benjamin Netanyahu’s already turbulent relationship with President Obama and put “daylight” between the Israeli government and the Democrats (to use Obama’s term), it did not undermine the U.S.-Israel “special relationship” to the extent forecast by doom-mongers, with Netanyahu playing an important role in President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal and to re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Whether or not this achievement will prove either lasting or beneficial over the long term remains to be seen.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: AIPAC, Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran nuclear program, Menachem Begin, Ronald Reagan, Saudi Arabia, US-Israel relations

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter